A Christmas note

Here we are, Christmas 2020. The markets are closed, we aren’t gathering for our usual Christmas parties and fireworks will not adorn the sky however, we do have the opportunity to reflect on what we have come through this year and lessons learned.

Despite the unexpected challenges we have all faced this year; as a service, as a city, we have continued to press on. I’m sure you will all agree that 2020 has been difficult and such circumstances have forced radical change. As a service, the way in which we work on a daily basis has significantly altered. A service of over 100 people shift from a safe office environment to one which offered no access to that space we’ve been used to; instead we work from our kitchen tables, our studies, our dens, our bedrooms, our garden sheds.

Planning Officer fulfilling duties for the Service

When the announcement back in March was made to pack our desks and take our laptops home, reality struck, and we realised radical change and adaptation was required to deliver the same level of service. New policies and procedures as well as new I.T. systems and software have been implemented to enable the service to continue to function. Our dedicated staff have quickly adapted to new ways of working whilst balancing a very different home life.

Post Covid-19 Planning Office

As highlighted in our time performance blog, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labour. The changes we have implemented and efforts from all of those who engage with the service, are beginning to see improvements. However, the positive results don’t end with improved time performance within the service. We are proud of progress made on major projects which will play their part in building a positive future for the city. Recent updates include the City Plan 2030 and Low Emission Zones.

Quarter Mile development, Edinburgh.

It is only from the dedication of our staff, the patience and support of our customers, stakeholders and communities, that we have managed to continue to deliver and improve the service. Once again, we would like to sincerely thank everyone for their efforts in helping the service through this challenging time and we ask that as we move forward into a new year, you continue to work with us as we continue to implement changes to improve the service for everyone.

To this end, 2020 has been a challenging year, a year of great sadness, frustration and, uncertainty however, let us reflect on the good, focus on our efforts and, recognise our achievements. 2020 has been a year where we have been given the opportunity to appreciate a way of life we took for granted in our 21st century existence however, we have proven to ourselves that we have what it takes to adapt to a new and strange environment, and we have the capacity to succeed!

Whilst we all undergo the necessary Covid-19 restrictions, we hope that as we enter the new year, we all continue to adapt and make the best of this new environment.

Finally, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year from all of us here in the Planning Service.

A new way of working

In case you missed them, some further updates:

A new way to pay, place briefs, guidance updates, character appraisals, service improvements

Planning Time Performance Review

Following on from our ‘Looking Back Over Lockdown Blog’, we have been continuing to implement changes within the service to improve our performance.

We would like to take this opportunity to share with you the results from our quarterly time performance review. Despite the challenges 2020 has encompassed, the service’s response to the restrictions enforced to protect us from Covid-19 has been positive.

The charts below show the average decision times taken to complete Major, Local and Householder applications. From the beginning of the year, there has been a general improvement in decision times across the service. In quarter two the service is delivering decisions at the national average, and we’re aiming to be even faster than that as we move forward.

Householder Average Decision Times
Local Average Decision Time
Major Developments Average Decision Times

This is great news! Whilst working hard to continue to deliver a planning service over the course of the year, our efforts to improve the service are beginning to show positive results. Once again, we would like to thank you for your patience and understanding when engaging with the service and we offer our thanks to the staff within the service who have made this achievement possible. Further information is available here.

Moving forward, we are continuing to develop new ways of working and strategies to ensure the planning service delivers high quality outcomes more efficiently.

Looking back over Lockdown

Thank-you

We wanted to stop and take a moment to reflect over the past months. I think we can all agree that 2020 hasn’t turned out to be the year that we had envisaged. Covid-19 took the world by storm and as a nation we have had to swiftly adapt to a very different environment.

It has been one of our high priorities to continue to deliver a high-quality planning service to the people of Edinburgh. The planning service is a collaborative effort, we rely on public engagement, stakeholder contribution and of course, our customers, agents and, communities we work with on a daily basis. We wanted to take this opportunity to recognise your input in helping us to achieve a continued effective planning service; primarily your patience, your understanding and, your willingness to work with us during these challenging times. Though most of our work stations now look very different, this has not hindered our shared ability to deliver a service that will help to support the economy of our city and, ultimately improve the quality of life for its residents.

Thank you from all of us.

A Service Update

At this stage, we feel it is important to share our story over the past six months, how the service has performed and, the outcome of our efforts.

From April through to the end of September, we received a total of 2104 applications. Over the same period, we have fully assessed 1908 planning applications. Average determination times continue to improve towards exceeding the Scottish national average. Given the circumstances of which we are working in, we are proud of our performance.

As you will be aware, our offices continue to remain closed and so, the past seven months have been an evolving work in progress, putting systems and strategies in place in order to continue to perform as a service. As we continue to develop, we are looking into how to work effectively in this new, remote environment. At present, we are focussing on how we can implement greater efficiencies into our processes to ensure that we continually improve the service. We are devoted to delivering a service that ensures Edinburgh remains a great city to be enjoyed by all!

Decision making

To further facilitate continued decision making, formal meetings such as the Development Management Sub-Committee, have also had to adapt. Since May, to date, the DM Sub-Committee has met virtually on eleven occasions and worked on through their summer recess period to do so. Committee members embraced a new way of working and consequently, have made 82 decisions over the period which have included several major applications such as, the Wave Garden at the former Craigpark Quarry site.

Once again, we are proud to highlight that as a service, we have been doing our very best to maintain an effective planning service.

Lessons moving forward

Moving forward, we are keen to embrace this new way of working. Given the unlikely return to the ‘old way of working’, we are looking forward to being able to continue to deliver the planning service in collaboration with you.

Reflecting over these past months we have uncovered some new challenges and, lessons have been learned. As a result of Covid-19, three key lessons we have encountered which we now realise have a significant impact on the continued operation of the service:

• Rapid change and adaptation were required in response to lockdown. This ignited a shift in the attitudes towards change in the service. We used to be relatively slow to change established ways of working however, seven months on, change through trialling and embracing innovative ways of delivering an effective service is now our focus.

• We recognise the service would not have been able to continue to operate without embracing new digital ways of working. Internally, we now have a team continually investigating and implementing new digital platforms to help deliver an efficient service.

• Consideration for the well-being of our staff, our consultees, our customers and, our communities. Our appreciation for well-being has adapted as lockdown measures encourage us all to work from home. The Planning Authority’s top priority is well-being and we are dedicated to implementing measures, through our newly established well-being team, to ensure we do what we can to protect our health well-being.

For your information

There have been changes to the Authority’s Scheme of Delegation.

The Scheme of Delegation to Officers sets out the powers delegated by the City of Edinburgh Council to officers, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and under emergency provisions, the Council’s Leadership Advisory Panel agreed temporary amendments to the Scheme of Delegation on 31 March 2020. These temporary amendments expired on 1 September 2020 and the new Scheme of Delegation comes into force on 1 November 2020.

To conclude

In conclusion, once again we thank-you for your co-operation during this period. None of the achievements mentioned above would have been possible without everyone’s input and willingness to ‘make it work’. We look forward to continuing to work with you in this ‘new normal’ and, striving to deliver an excellent planning service.

Thank you.

Review of the Marchmont, Meadows and Bruntsfield Conservation Area Character Appraisal

Marchmont tenements

We’re reviewing our Character Appraisal for the Marchmont, Meadows and Bruntsfield Conservation Area. Originally designated in 1987, the Character Appraisal was last reviewed in 2007.

What is a conservation area and why do we designate them?

Conservation areas are defined ‘as areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance’.  Edinburgh has designated 50 conservation areas over the last 50 years with many of them designated in the early 1970s. They cover historic land, public parks, designed landscapes or railways but most contain groups of buildings extending over areas of the city. It is a statutory requirement for local authorities to review conservation areas and consider whether new conservation area designations are needed.

Trees in the Meadows

What are the effects of conservation area status?

Conservation area status does not place a ban upon all new development within its boundaries. It does however, mean that new development will normally only be granted planning permission if it can be demonstrated that it will not harm the special character or appearance of the area. Conservation area status also brings a number of special controls including:

  • The demolition of unlisted buildings requires Conservation Area Consent;
  • Some permitted development rights are removed;
  • Alterations to windows are also controlled in conservation areas in terms of the Council’s guidelines; and
  • Works to trees are controlled.

Guidance used to set out what we expect from development in Conservation Areas can be found here.

What is the purpose of Character Appraisals?

Character appraisals are produced to help manage change. These set out what makes the conservation area special and helps to make decisions on proposals that may affect the character of an area. All new development should preserve or enhance the conservation area. Change should be based on an understanding of the historic and urban design context.

Map of the Marchmont, Meadows and Bruntsfield Conservation Area

What are the changes?

The reviewed character appraisal updates the text for its publication as a digital document which will include images, photographs and interactive maps. The review includes an update on some of the area’s larger public buildings and includes a new management section that sets out the relevant legislation policies and guidance used in assessing development proposals in the Conservation Area.  This section also identifies particular development pressures within the Conservation Area.

Bruntsfield houses

Have your say

You can give us your views on the revised Marchmont, Meadows and Bruntsfield Conservation Area Character Appraisal until the 16 December.

City Plan 2030 – Shopping and Leisure Seminar

On 22 February 2019 we held a shopping and leisure seminar with people who work in this sector as well as people from community councils. The seminar was a chance to share findings from our research into the shopping and leisure market in Edinburgh. As with the seminars we held on housing and visitor accommodation, these events help us gather a range of views to help shape our policies for City Plan 2030.

The event included an open discussion with a number of issues and queries raised.

The speakers included Cllr Neil Gardiner, Convener of the Planning Commitee, who welcomed the attendees to the seminar:

 

Daisy Narayanan (Project Director, the City of Edinburgh Council) who talked about the progress of the Edinburgh City Centre Transformation project:

 

Keith Miller (Senior Planner, the City of Edinburgh Council) who shared the context and timing of City Plan 2030, and our research and monitoring done on the subject of the shopping and leisure market in the city;

 

and Dr Mark Robertson (Ryden) who covered the draft retail and leisure commercial needs study which was commissioned by us to inform our retail policies for City Plan 2030;

 

Part of the draft study can be seen below, including some detailed findings on the number of shops, rent and vacant units in our town centres. You may not know that Portobello town centre has the lowest rent costs but also the lowest rate of vacancy in the city, and that Leith/Leith Walk has the most shops of all centres:

vacancyslide

rentunitsslide

 

The city centre has been rated highly in surveys which were done as part of this study:

satisfactionslide

 

And access to shops outside of centres was covered, with this map showing parts of the city which are within walking distance of a food or local grocery shop:

AccessToShops_with centres map.jpg

 

The Ryden study includes a lot of data, but a few key points include;

  • Vacancy levels have fallen since the recession, and are below the Scottish average.
  • Although not the biggest shopping and leisure market, Edinburgh city centre ranks highly on quality. Edinburgh St James will continue to shift the market to the east of the city.
  • The reduction in comparison goods shops has been offset by higher numbers of leisure and service uses, although spending on comparison goods (which shoppers buy less often, and will compare prices, features and quality between products and shops before buying) is forecast to grow up to 2028.
  • There is enough convenience shopping space to allow for the expected growth of the city up to 2028.

These are all trends we will need to address as we continue to shape our policies. This is only part of the research that is going into City Plan 2030, and as the plan moves forward we will be getting more views and consulting on what the plan should include. You can keep track and take part by: